An Affair to Forget

From the Chicago Reader (October 28, 1994). — J.R.

http://i2.listal.com/image/1745849/500full.jpg

* LOVE AFFAIR

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron

Written by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty

With Beatty, Annette Bening, Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Chloe Webb, Pierce Brosnan, and Kate Capshaw.


The writing and directing credits for Love Affair are legally correct but historically, aesthetically, and ethically wrong. A more accurate account of where the movie comes from, in terms of characters, plot, dialogue, and even camera placement, would have to cite the story written by Leo McCarey and Mildred Cram for Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, inspired by an extended trip McCarey and his wife took to Europe. According to McCarey, seeing the Statue of Liberty slide into view as the ship approached the New York harbor gave birth to the plot: a man and a woman, each engaged to someone else, meet on such a liner, bound for Europe from New York, and fall in love. On their way back they make a date to meet at the top of the Empire State Building six months hence if they’ve both been able to shake loose from their commitments and if the man, a wealthy playboy who’s never held a job in his life, has been able to find work and thus make himself worthy.… Read more »

For Your Eyes Only [on Beatty's DICK TRACY]

From the Chicago Reader (June 15, 1990).

Regarding Peter Biskind’s hyperbolic overestimation of Beatty, then and now — matched in a way by Beatty’s own jokey comparison of Biskind to Trotsky, as reported by Biskind in his recent and sometimes unwittingly hilarious Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (2010) — it seems that this has only grown over the past 20 or so years. In his Introduction, Biskind rhetorically asks, “how many defining motion pictures does a filmmaker have to make to be considered great?” and then rhetorically answers, “very few,” going on to assign only one or two each to Welles, Renoir, and Kazan, and just one to Peckinpah, but no less than five to Beatty, evidently regarding Bugsy as a towering achievement alongside such trifles as The Magnificent Ambersons, French Cancan, or Wild River. But this is the same writer who can call Kaleidoscope “James Bond lite,” allowing one to ponder what he might actually regard as James Bond heavy — or even as James Bond normal. — J.R.

DICK TRACY ** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Warren Beatty

Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

With Warren Beatty, Charlie Korsmo, Glenne Headly, Madonna, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, and Charles Durning.… Read more »

Rocking the Vote

This appeared in  the May 22, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.

Bulworth

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Warren Beatty

Written by Beatty and Jeremy Pikser

With Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Jack Warden, Paul Sorvino, Don Cheadle, and Amiri Baraka.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

“Warren Beatty co-wrote, directed, and stars in this satire about a self-destructive U.S. senator using race-baiting tactics to get reelected.” I assume Mark Caro hadn’t seen Bulworth when he wrote this capsule for the Chicago Tribune‘s May 10 summer movie preview. It only goes to show the risks you run when you try to make a movie that tells the truth politically and then limit this “truth” to a series of sound bites; sooner or later that form of TV abbreviation is going to bite you back.

More precisely, Bulworth is about a Democratic senator from California (Beatty), up for reelection in 1996, who is having a nervous breakdown, takes out a contract on himself, and then finds himself blurting out the truth instead of the usual packaged lies during his campaign. He hasn’t slept for days, and after throwing caution to the winds and going off to a hip-hop club with Nina (Halle Berry) and two other young women from South Central LA, he starts parsing out all his public statements in rap, scandalizing his staff and various media people with the form and content of his forthright declarations.… Read more »

Jack Reed’s Christmas Puppy: Reflections on REDS

From the Spring 1982 Sight and Sound. — J.R.

Jack Reed’s Christmas Puppy: Reflections on REDS

1: On the Unreliability of Memory

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. — Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire

“Was it 1913 or ’17?” wonders the first ancient voice, male and faltering, after a burst of vigorous ragtime has faded out, before the opening credits have left the screen. “I can’t remember now — I’m beginning to forget all the people I used to know.” “Do I remember Louise Bryant?” asks the voice of another male oldster. “Why, of course; I couldn’t forget her if I tried.” A third witness of that period, female, appears on the right of the screen against a black background, lit like a Richard Avedon portrait. “I can’t tell you,” she replies to an unheard question. “I might sort of scratch my memory, but not at the moment . . . you know, things go and come back again.”

At once the conscience and the Greek chorus of REDS, the thirty-two “witnesses” who prattle and reminisce about the real characters and events — John Reed, Louise Bryant, Eugene O’Neill, Emma Goldman, World     War I, the Russian Revolution — are immediately perceived as human, charming, and indispensable;     without them, the film and its achievement could not even begin to exist.… Read more »

Inside the Vault [on SPIONE]

An essay commissioned by Masters of Cinema in the U.K. for their DVD of Fritz Lang’s Spione, released in 2005. This is reprinted in my recent collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition (University of Chicago, 2010). — J.R.

If Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1924) anticipates the pop mythologies of everything from Fantasia to Batman to Star Wars, his master spy thriller of four years later seems to usher in some of the romantic  intrigues of Graham Greene, not to mention much of the paraphernalia of Ian Fleming, especially in their movie versions. No less suggestively, the employments of paranoia and conspiracy by less mainstream artists such as Jacques Rivette (Out 1) and Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow) seem rooted in the seductively coded messages, erotic intrigues, and multiple counter-plots of Spione.

One is also tempted to speak of Alfred Hitchcock, who certainly learned a trick or two from Lang —- though in this case the conceptual and stylistic differences may be more pertinent than the similarities. One could generalize by saying that Hitchcock is more interested in his heroes while Lang is more interested in his villains, and the different approaches of each director in soliciting or discouraging the viewer’s identification with his characters are equally striking, especially if one contrasts the German films of Lang with the American films of Hitchcock.… Read more »

Moonfleet

From the Chicago Reader (August 30, 2002). — J.R.

Moonfleet-well

Fritz Lang’s only film in CinemaScope (1955, 89 min.) is one of his most neglected features, at least in this country. (In France there’s a deluxe edition on DVD made especially for high school students.) A kind of 18th-century fairy tale about an orphan (Jon Whiteley) in Dorset who’s adopted, after a fashion, by a smuggler (Stewart Granger), this classy MGM production was adapted from a novel by J. Meade Faulkner by Margaret Fitts and Jan Lustig, and its dreamlike sense of wonder is equaled only in Lang’s German pictures. John Houseman produced, and Mikos Rozsa wrote the stirring score; the fine secondary cast includes George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, and Viveca Lindfors. (JR)

MoonfleetRead more »

Vinyl

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1989). — J.R.

After paying $3,000 for the rights to Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, Andy Warhol made this very loose adaptation (1965) using direct sound, with such Warhol regulars as Ondine and Edie Sedgwick, Gerard Malanga performing a whip dance, and music by the Velvet Underground. It’s one of Warhol’s very best — and most painterly — films, more interesting for what it does with crowded space than for the S and M. 64 min. (JR)

Read more »

Passing Through

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1990). — J.R.

One of the rare fiction features about the jazz world made by a black filmmaker — and arguably much more important than Mo’ Better Blues, though it’s rarely shown. This 1977 film by Larry Clark, written by Ted Lange, follows a young saxophonist (Nathaniel Taylor) recently released from prison who tries to deal with the political aspects of his profession with the help of an older musician (Clarence Muse). Original and thoughtful, this is a very special first feature, with a feeling for the music that’s boldly translated into film style. (JR)

Read more »

Hope Springs Eternal [The Best Films of 1999]

From the Chicago Reader (January 7, 2000). — J.R.

I find critics’ near unanimity about hits and favorites a bit of a bore, even when I agree with some of their choices. Disputes are far more interesting, because they make artistic and political differences clearer and more meaningful. Perhaps because I’m drawn to cinema that can theoretically change the world — and me — I can’t see much purpose in commemorating movies whose prime aim seems to be to make me forget the world outside the theater. The remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and an evening of channel surfing, no matter how enjoyable either might be, are of roughly equal irrelevance.

Nineteen ninety-nine was a pivotal year in movies, clarifying where a lot of people stood and who they were. This kind of definition was encouraged by the existential stocktaking that came with the end of the millennium — the compiling of more best-film lists than usual (of the 90s, of the century) and more generalized meditating on the state of the art and the medium. (After finishing my own best-of-the-90s list for the last issue of the year, I discovered that all but one of the movies had an interesting trait in common: they hadn’t been reviewed in the New Yorker.… Read more »

En movimiento: Critical Taste versus Criticism

My column for the forthcoming June 2015 issue of Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.

lapeaudouce

Although we often collapse the two into a single entity, it’s important to acknowledge that criticism and critical taste are far from identical or interchangeable.  It’s instructive that Godard today considers Truffaut more important as a critic than as a filmmaker, and equally provocative to learn from both Dudley Andrew’s biography of André Bazin  and the fascinating, lengthy interview with Resnais in Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues and Jean-Louis Leutrat’s 2006 book Alain Resnais: Liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds  (Cahiers du Cinéma) that Resnais originally functioned as Bazin’s mentor on film history during the German Occupation, especially on the subject of silent cinema, when he used to carry his 9.5 mm projector on his bicycle in order to show silent movies at La Maison des Lettres  on rue des Ursulines, and Bazin, still fresh from the provinces, hadn’t yet encountered silent films in general or the early films of Fritz Lang in particular.

The Love Parade window

Unlike Bazin and Truffaut, Resnais was of course never a critic. Yet his critical taste was clearly every bit as central to his own films as Truffaut’s or Godard’s critical tastes and positions were to their own oeuvres.… Read more »

Circle’s Short Circuit

From the Chicago Reader (September 17, 1999). I’ve been dying to see this film again, and reportedly it’s now possible to do so online. One can also watch a 21-second teaser at the web site of its distributor, Video Data Bank. — J.R.

CirclesShortCircuit

This 1998 Caspar Stracke feature is one of the rare experimental films in 35-millimeter, and though I could preview it only on video, it kept me fascinated even in that format. Stracke describes it as moving in a circle with neither a beginning nor an end; in the version I saw, the credits come in the middle. A lecture on the philosophical and psychoanalytic implications of the invention of the telephone by theorist Avital Ronell eventually turns into a story in black and white about a woman who has a lotus blossom growing in her left lung; at different times this film comes across as documentary, essay, performance art, and silent throwback (complete with intertitles and irises), and the capabilities and rhetoric associated with both computers and VCRs play a part in the continuously shifting and evolving discourse. Stracke will be present at the screening. Kino-Eye Cinema at Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee, Friday, September 17, 8:00, 773-293-1447.… Read more »

Revisiting THE GODFATHER

This was written in December 2008, after Dana Linssen, the editor-in-chief of the independent Dutch film monthly  de Filmkrant, sent out a request early that month for contributions to what she called a “Slow Criticism” dossier, to appear in their special English-language newspaper at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in late January. I revived it in 2011 as my own contribution to the avalanche of journalism that had been appearing about Pauline Kael, capped by Frank Rich’s lengthy piece in the New York Times; it’s also included in my most recent collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, where it concludes the book’s penultimate section, “Films,” just before its final section, “Criticism”. There isn’t a piece about Kael in the final section, but this broadside helps to explain why.

One aspect of  recent journalism about Kael that seems to confirm the provinciality of American film criticism in general is the tacit assumption that “the world of film” in the U.S. is somehow (and automatically) coterminous and equivalent to global film culture — unless the assumption is simply that global film culture is too esoteric and inconsequential a subject to be worthy of discussion in the U.S. But it’s worth stressing that outside the English-speaking world, Kael’s critical status was and is pretty limited.Read more »

SCARFACE

A capsule review requested by and written for MUBI’s Notebook in conjunction with an ongoing series at New York”s Film Forum. — J.R.

scarface

Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932): A surprising amount of Howard Hawks’ unstable, weirdly graceful universe is informed by the imminence of death and the proximity of offscreen space, tied to the risks of tangling with sudden impulses. Few of his films are more aware of this encroaching void than Scarface, where X is made to mark the offscreen spot around every narrative corner. This frighteningly brutal black comedy, the least romantic of his crowd-pleasers — a much better gangster film than any of the Godfathers, especially when it comes to confronting reality — was made when people were far less deluded than they are today about the fact that their lives and destinies were being controlled by crooks. What makes it bleaker than Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo is the small and indecisive role friendship is allowed to play in holding back the darkness; perhaps only Land of the Pharaohs betrays a comparable nihilistic bleakness. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ln28nyzWSs1qhqg0d.pngRead more »

The Taste of Ashes [SARABAND & BROKEN FLOWERS]

From the Chicago Reader (August 5, 2005). — J.R.

Saraband

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Ingmar Bergman

With Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephon, Borje Ahlstedt, Julia Dufvenius, and Gunnel Fred

Broken Flowers

*** (A must see)

Directed and written by Jim Jarmusch

With Bill Murray, Julie Delpy, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Alexis Dziena, Frances Conroy, Christopher McDonald, Chloe Svigny, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, and Mark Webber

Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers are two minimalist features about burned-out individuals picking over the wreckage of relationships they can barely remember and about the special art of not really giving a shit. (A third is Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, scheduled to open here next week.) With its sprawling and far from symmetrical plot, Saraband, made in 2003 for Swedish television, is stark and economical, with a small cast of characters and sparse rural settings, and it seems like an apocalyptic endgame in terms of Bergman’s own career — the end of the world as he knows it. It was shot in digital video, and at Bergman’s insistence is being projected as such — and his peculiar use of that medium is what makes this work compelling.

I wouldn’t dream of contesting Bergman’s status as a film master.… Read more »

Trends of Bill

From the Chicago Reader (March 5, 1993). –J.R.

MAD DOG AND GLORY

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by John McNaughton

Written by Richard Price

With Robert De Niro, Bill Murray, Uma Thurman, David Caruso, Mike Starr, Tom Towles, and Kathy Baker.

GROUNDHOG DAY

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Harold Ramis

Written by Danny Rubin and Ramis

With Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Marita Geraghty.

/wp-content/uploads/1993/03/mad-dog-and-glory-bill-murray.jpg

As far as the mainstream is concerned, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are beacons of artistic integrity and originality, while Harold Ramis and Bill Murray are at best unpretentious entertainers; screenwriter Richard Price (The Color of Money, Sea of Love) is a respected pro, and director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Borrower) is a promising maverick. But all of these assumptions are challenged in one way or another by the two latest Bill Murray movies. In Price and McNaughton’s Mad Dog and Glory, produced by Scorsese, artistic integrity, originality, craft, daring, and promise seem in shorter supply than in Ramis’s Groundhog Day.

I may be oversimplifying certain issues here. Groundhog Day, which boasts no interesting characters, is held in place by a narrative premise so shopworn — big-city grouch discovers small-town virtues and the error of his ways — that merely thinking about it makes me want to doze off.

Read more »